Movie Black Swan

A dancer’s body has been described as an instrument of beauty, sculpture in motion, heaven’s architecture. Martha Graham said dance is the body’s song. In the popular imagination, a ballerina is the picture of grace, beauty, elegance, and alignment. So leave it to the director of “Requiem for a Dream’’ and “The Wrestler’’ to turn that body into a temple of doom — complete with inky feathers, a bull’s grunt, and webbed feet. To be fair, the mind in question is no pleasure garden, either.

Natalie Portman speeds around “Black Swan’’ in a state of corseted frenzy. She plays Nina, a demure but eager prima ballerina in a New York ballet company, and while the director Darren Aronofsky furnishes many scenes of Nina doing turns and grueling pointe work, what I remember most about movement in this commercially daring freak-out is all the running she does — through corridors and across Lincoln Center, with the camera at her back. It’s no running that Usain Bolt or Tom Cruise would recognize. It’s a gait of intense composure — the ballet version of a 40-yard dash.
Where Nina is so desperately rushing is a perfectionist’s masochistic paradise. But on the way, she tries to save her starring role in “Swan Lake’’ from Lily (Mila Kunis), the company’s sexy, back-tattooed new dancer. It’s that sort of movie. Some girls fight over men. Ballerinas fight over parts. But the occasional brilliance of “Black Swan’’ is that it’s a one-way fight. Nina battles herself.
In the opening minutes, Nina says she’s awoken from a dream in which she’s landed the Swan Queen role in a new production of “Swan Lake.’’ She spends the rest of the film chasing the part and defending it. Before auditions, the company’s hilariously sleazy artistic director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), explains the show to his dancers. A virgin is turned into a white swan. The love of a prince could break the spell. But a black swan seduces him away. The white swan leaps to her death. Curtains.
Thomas wants do it “stripped-down,’’ “visceral,’’ and “real.’’ As is customary, he'll have the same dancer play both swans. The movie’s innovation is to gradually assume the magic-realist moroseness of the ballet. Aronofsky’s rendition is just grislier and has more impalings.
Nina wins the part. But even then, Thomas, in his insinuating French accent, continues to beg her to tap into the Swan Queen’s dark side. It won’t be easy. Nina wears pink bouclé. She practices nonstop. She lives with her single mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), the sort of faded ballerina who had to give it all up to have Nina. Anyone who’s seen “Carrie,’’ “The Piano Teacher,’’ “Precious,’’ or Disney’s current hit, “Tangled,’’ will know the mother-daughter relationship in “Black Swan’’ is comparably loaded. When Erica evilly threatens to throw out a celebratory cake, Nina steels herself for a dreaded lick of icing. At some point, Nina tries to masturbate, and in walks mom


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